Contractors, as covid lockdown lifts, help unlocking health insurance should be a must for many

With lockdown’s official lifting pencilled in for Saturday July 4th, now’s not necessarily the time that contractors might use to look at getting private health insurance but, actually, there’s grounds to suggest that many should.

It’s true and reassuring that despite initial fears, the NHS has coped well with coronavirus. Initial predictions warned hospitals could be overwhelmed, intensive care beds and ventilators could run out, and people could be unable to access life-saving treatment.

Thanks to a concerted effort, we’ve fortunately avoided such apocalyptic scenarios, writes Tom Conner, director of financial planners and brokerage house Drewberry.

A second wave?

Prime minister Boris Johnson went further yesterday, saying he did not believe there was a second wave of covid-19 infections that could overwhelm the NHS.

The British Medical Association seems less convinced. It has written to the leaders of the main political parties to secure a “rapid” review into the UK’s preparedness for a second wave.

The letter’s backdrop is that the UK’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Witty, cautions that the virus will remain active in Britain for “a very long time.” Outbreaks of the virus will still occur at a “local” level, added Mr Johnson.

And a vaccine isn’t seen by either as likely – for you and me to use-- before 2021. Prof Witty pointed to “next spring”  -- so a year from now -- as the very first period at which “a significant amount of coronavirus [will not still be] circulating.”

The state of our NHS

What can there be even less doubt about is that although it continues to operate in defiance of covid-19, the NHS appears to be under immense pressure. Even more so than pre-pandemic.

Almost all elective surgery was cancelled to increase hospital capacity for coronavirus. There’s now a huge backlog of procedures. It includes about half a million people in need of diagnostic tests but who must wait six weeks. At least.

You’ll also currently wait more than six weeks if you need an MRI; a Colonoscopy; a Cystoscopy; used to detect tumours, bowel cancer, and bladder cancer respectively, adds a Labour party analysis of NHS England figures.

In terms of volume of patients, it’s unprecedented. A recent BBC article contained a stark warning from the NHS Confederation -- that waiting lists could reach 10 million by the end of the year. That represents a more than doubling on today’s 4.2 million people in the queue.

Returning to normal, in a workplace (and with risks) that’ll be anything but

As viewers of yesterday’s last daily coronavirus briefing from Number 10 know more than most, all this comes as the economy, and workplaces, are about to reopen in earnest. Pubs, bars and restaurants can all reopen from July 4th, when social distancing can be reduced to ‘one metre-plus’ where two metres isn’t possible. Cinemas, tourist attractions, hairdressers and hotels can reopen too from the same date -- a week on Saturday.

But offices are going to be very different places for contractors for some time to come, with social distancing, hand sanitiser, rotational teams and partitioning among the ‘new normal.’ Not only does this impose steps to take on those businesses which engage contractors ranging from risk assessments to CVIs; but it also spells change for contractors to keep their own business health and safety-conscious. That’s on top of the personal, medically-approved steps we should all be taking as individuals to keep covid at bay.

Please seek medical advice, early

Contractors must seek medical assistance if they need it, even for medical concerns other than coronavirus. Although the NHS is currently flat out, that’s no good reason to put off addressing a health problem that could become much more serious.

Experts are already concerned that the pandemic has stopped people seeking medical help.

In fact, there’s been a massive drop in A&E visits since the pandemic hit, even for more serious conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. Attendances at A&E departments in England stood at just 916,581 in April 2020. This has more than halved compared to April 2019, when there were 2.1 million attendances at A&E departments in England.

Any medical problem ignored today has the potential to get much worse, with possibly deadly consequences.

It’s a similar story for GP appointments. An estimated 16.6million appointments took place in England in April 2020, down from 24.5million in April 2019.

Again, the concern is that as patients ignore early symptoms due to concerns about going to a GP, the NHS will face a future tsunami of more serious cases that would have been far easier to treat had they been caught early.

In the UK, we risk entering an era where demand for healthcare outstrips supply. As the NHS tirelessly works through its backlog of cases and deals with more serious conditions that have cropped up as a result of early symptoms not being dealt with, waiting lists will get longer.

As you return to the workplace, is now the time to get help on health cover?

With not a great deal of statutory or emergency covid-related protections applying to them, contractors fortunately have the option to turn to Private Health Insurance. This cover is a must for those who want to skip NHS waiting lists (or need to due to the nature of the complaint), in the event they need medical support, advice or equipment.

However, taking out cover can be a minefield, with factors to consider ranging from medical underwriting to your level of outpatient and cancer cover. Also, cover isn’t cheap so it’s vital to compare all leading insurers to get the best deal.

For limited company workers, it’s often safest to use an independent broker who is more than familiar with working with contractors – workers whose operations and working practices are less ‘normal’ than conventional employees. But make sure you get a broker who you know is going to do the heavy lifting for you.

Better to be safe than…

In their letter, the BMI, on behalf of our country’s medical leaders, state: “We think there’s a strong case for an immediate assessment of national preparedness.” Well, it’s in that same spirit of preparedness that we believe that now might be a good time to consider private health insurance. A bit like that long and forecast-to-increase NHS waiting list most want to avoid, good brokers are a sure bet to avoid wading through particulars – particulars that hard-working contractors probably won’t be too thrilled by, or have the time for, as the ‘new normal’ beckons.

Editor's Note: Find out more about private health insurance or get a quote today for private health insurance

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Written by Tom Conner

Tom Conner is a director at Drewberry Insurance, the London and Brighton based financial advisers which serves clients remotely throughout the UK. Tom holds a masters degree in finance from Cambridge University and has worked in financial services for 12 years. Tom firmly believes that financial advice is best delivered by a person rather than a robot.
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